TAMPA — Whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum. All found new life in liquor stores and bars in recent years after remaking their images as premium, hand-crafted spirits to feed the craft cocktail craze.
Joshua Varon wants to add Peruvian pisco to that list.
The University of South Florida and Plant High School graduate’s new company, Viviza, is importing Fontana brand pisco into the United States to demonstrate the spirit’s versatility in cocktails in addition to being a sipping liquor.
Tonight, 11 restaurants in Tampa, Sarasota and Orlando will participate in a Salute to Peru that will pair pisco drinks with Peruvian food.
In Tampa, Fontana will be featured at Terra Sur Restaurant & Bar on West Kennedy Boulevard as well as at Anise Global Gastrobar on Ashley Street, Grill One Sixteen on Dale Mabry Highway and at The Bungalow, also on Kennedy Boulevard.
Varon, who is joined in the Viviza venture by his Peruvian father, David, is aiming at the same young demographic that rediscovered and embraced vodka and rum.
“We’re trying to get the word out about pisco,” Varon says.
Peruvian standards limit pisco makers to blending a selection of eight grape varieties and require that they age at least three months. Pisco made in Chile is not regulated by aging restrictions or content, including additives and sugars.
Earlier this year, Fontana flew bartenders from Tampa to Peru to give them a tour of the distillery and teach them techniques for using its pisco.
“People tend to either love it or they don’t,” Varon said. “Most people, though, have only tasted Chilean pisco. Ours is made so much better.”
Interest in the U.S. surged around 2012, after Pisco Porton began a marketing tour, including a stop in Tampa in early 2013 by master distiller Johnny Schuler. Around that time, Pisco Sour craft cocktails made with bitters, lemon juice, sugar and egg whites began appearing on bar menus.
Last summer, pisco cocktails were the rage in New York City in drinks such as the Pisco Punch at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog on Water Street, the Cuzco Humming Bird at the Los Americanos eatery in the Tribeca neighborhood and the Toronja y Rosas at the Latin restaurant Yerba Buena Perry.
Bartender Ryan Pines of Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa began featuring pisco last year in his Tea in Lima cocktail. He infused Pisco Porton with Jasmine Silver Needle tea by Tampa’s TeBella Tea Co. and then combined it with honey syrup, lemon and egg white.
Pines will be one of three bartenders serving Fontana pisco tonight at Terra Sur during the Salute to Peru. He will be mixing a Peruvian take on the classic Ruby cocktail, with raspberry syrup, lemon juice, rhubarb liqueur and carbonation. Pines will be joined at the bar by Ryan Brown of Anise Global Gastrobar and Daniel Riney of Roux.
At Edison, Pines makes a carbonated cocktail using Fontana pisco infused with ancho chile liqueur and bitters. His Tea in Lima pisco drink was one of the top sellers last year.
“You’re going to see some steam going behind pisco,” Pines said. “This little company is going to take off. Fontana makes some stellar pisco.”
For a list of participating Salute to Peru restaurants and bars, go online to FontanaPisco.com.